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Growth Point Bid

Pools ProtestWe broke the news of what has become known as the 'Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point Bid' in our first article called 'Plans to Expand' back in mid November. It had been slipped-in as a late item in a Cabinet meeting, and was passed with very little discussion or consideration. We subsequently did a more detailed analysis of the scheme in 'City Region Blues' showing how, if Government were to approve the proposal, it would threaten Fylde with development designed to benefit Blackpool, and require Government to re-write their own Regional Spatial Strategy which they have not yet even completed. We said it was planning madness.

As a result of our concern being picked up by Fylde's councillors, and other local news media, the matter became even more widely known, and councillors initiated a 'call in' to have the Cabinet decision reviewed.

The outcome of that review was a reference to the Planning Policy Scrutiny Committee who were asked to look at it in more detail.

That scrutiny meeting is on Thursday this week at Lowther Pavilion starting at 7:00pm.

At 5:00pm 'senior' Councillors (as if there were such a thing, implying that some of the electorate - those who elect the 'Senior' councillors - are more important than the rest of us) will hear from Blackpool and Government Office North West, in what looks to be a crude and blatant brainwashing session (given that they won't hear from any of the Councils opposed to the idea). Then at 7pm the public will be allowed to hear the debate within Fylde's Planning Policy Scrutiny Committee.

The agenda for that meeting and been published by Fylde (here) and apart from having a completely ungrammatical and literally senseless recommendation that says "On the basis of the matters contained in this report and the further information to be provided prior to the Committee meeting, the Committee recommends to the Portfolio Holder whether this Council should seek to become a full partner within the Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point bid, should the bid be successful in moving to the second round stage." it has some interesting reading.

The Department for Communities and Local Government appears to have said the Growth Point Bid would be strengthened if Fylde and Wyre became full members and the two Borough areas were included in the bid area.

You bet it would. They want us tarred with the same brush, and compromised.

The "M55 Hub" and Blackpool airport, together with Whitehills and Whyndyke Farm are key areas for development that will fund Blackpool's (and possibly part of Preston's) renewal. (And you can bet there will be other areas that get eaten up by development if this monster gets going as well)

Given that Blackpool has already fallen out with Preston about their plan to build a £700 million John Lewis Tower that will kill off Blackpool's hopes for regeneration of its own retail offering, if Fylde thinks it has a hope in hell of influencing Blackpool in this when Blackpool and Preston are already at war and can't agree on the projects to be selected, it's deluding itself.

Our Commissar clearly doesn't know what's going on, and is spouting dangerous nonsense in his ignorance.

He told the Gazette back in January that this move is necessary to ensure future funding for Fylde, adding "Like it or not Fylde Borough is part of the Fylde Peninsula and the future development of Blackpool and Wyre will affect Fylde and its residents in some shape or form."

Given his literal prejudicial interest in the matter (clearly he made up his mind to support the scheme in January, when the other Councils had been discussing it in secret since July and Fylde had been kept 'out of the loop' until a fortnight before the bid was submitted, and also before he has heard any of the presentations that will be made this Thursday), it will be interesting to see if he declares a prejudicial interest when it comes back to Cabinet or Council.

He went on to say that Preston has already received £700 million of Government funding for the Tithebarn project. This is another of his lies, just like the lie about Fylde's new town hall scheme costing £5 million (The Town Hall scheme was professionally estimated at £7million - and it might well reach £10 million the way he runs things). The Tithebarn Tower is part of the Growth Point Bid scheme that has yet to be approved. So either the Commissar is simply out of touch or, more likely, he is trying to manipulate public opinion by conning us that we'll get loadsamoney like Preston has if we go along with him.

The Commissar seems to be well enamoured of Preston. We think he would do well to go and run Preston and do us all a favour. He has the sort of civic testosterone they like there, and we don't like here. Preston might not worry too much about his overspending last year of £1.2 million which has devastated Fylde's reserves for no benefit at all, and would have provided enough revenue funding to run both Fylde's threatened swimming pools for more than two years.

We'd be happy to start a' removals fund' for him if it would help him to move. We're pretty sure most of Fylde would want to chip in.

But we're digressing here, so going back to the agenda report for Thursday's meeting, Fylde's Local Plans officer is caught in a tricky spot with his report. We know him to be a very competent and capable officer but the Commissar's evident support for the scheme is compromising his ability to offer proper impartial advice to the Council that employ him, and his report is heavily slanted toward support for the scheme - as will have been demanded by the Commissar. But it is also hedged with "if" and "maybes" so he won't be criticised afterwards.

He refers to lands in Fylde being "in an undefined 'grey' area which are not formally part of the Growth Point Bid area but are referred to in the documents as "core elements"

In other words he's saying they're trying to con us by not giving us enough to complain about, but enough to claim afterwards that including the land was what they meant all along. (Exactly the same modus operandi as the Commissar uses with our own Council)

Only two options are offered to the Scrutiny Committee - either supporting the Growth Point Programme in the other local authority areas, (but not joining the partnership and considering the any developments within Fylde as part of the Council's own planning system)

Or formally joining the Growth Point Programme authorities with a view to defining the whole of Fylde Borough as part of the Growth Point Programme Area.

We can offer a third option.

Tell Blackpool and Preston in no uncertain terms we want no part of it, and to get their envious eyes off our green land, and make sure Government Office North West knows that we will fight every potential incursion into our territorial space.

The officer goes on to note that Government is looking for "Councils with a genuine appetite to deliver high levels of housebuildng" and that "additional house building will more than likely involve greater amounts of development on greenfield sites within the Borough".

He also notes some councils have significant reservations in case Government itself doesn't put enough money into the scheme. (And having committed more than our annual defence budget to Northern Rock for the foreseeable future, they might well be a bit short).

He echoes our own key concern that if (as the bid proposes) a Board is formed to operate the partnership, that will take most of the decisions, and Fylde could actually be a net loser by joining such a partnership.

This is because it will compromise our ability to object. When Blackpool recently complained about Preston's planned John Lewis Tower, Preston responded by saying in effect No, Blackpool aren't objecting to the scheme, they have already supported it as part of the proposed Growth Point Bid.

The officer also says that joining the scheme would bring extra work for planners, for which there is no in-house capacity, so consultants would be needed - and that would mean extra cost (Not that that will bother the Commissar, he hires consultants as though they are going out of fashion).

The officer also says that even if we don't join, there could well be a lot more planning applications anyway, and that will mean extra work that we don't have the staff to cope with (so maybe the Commissar will close Lowther pavilion to pay for them next year).

What he doesn't say this time, but did in his previous report, is that these Growth Point proposals are completely outside the statutory planning process, and have not been subject to any public consultation.

That is an absolute disgrace.

He also omits to mention from his previous report that the process for Growth Point Bids and Eco Towns are broadly the same, and that the Eco Towns proposal from Government (as seen with placard-waving protestors on TV last night in Cheshire) specifically mentions the use of New Town Development Corporation powers as an option to take them forward. And that process includes potential for compulsory purchase powers and the ability to override the present planning process.

We suspect that if the Growth Point Bid is approved, and the Board ask for such powers, they could well be granted.

We are also deeply suspicious of Blackpool's real aims here.

'ReBlackpool' is Blackpool's urban regeneration company, charged with delivering the vision of Blackpool Resort Masterplan. It is limited by guarantee (so it has no share capital of its own), but it is a subsidiary of Blackpool Council who have 50% of the voting rights. ReBlackpool expects to lead a £2 billion redevelopment scheme, but it has no democratic accountability through the ballot box. You can't vote them out or change their plans..

Their designs are a clear and present danger for Fylde. Their recent plan (produced about the same time the Growth Point Bid was announced) called the Blackpool Task Force Report 'Extreme need, new opportunity An Action Plan for Sustainable Growth' includes extensions of the Blackpool Boundary well into Fylde's territory, and shows, for example, a good part of the Old Links Gold Club fairways potentially absorbed into an enlarged Blackpool airport development.

See this plan for yourself in the Blackpool Task Force Report  and don't miss the map on page 14 where you will see the incursions planned into Fylde. (Remember, our boundary is the middle of Squires Gate Lane).

The documentation with the map says "In order to achieve this vision and deliver sustainable regeneration and growth, the Task Force has developed a new Action Plan that builds upon the existing Blackpool Masterplan, the ReBlackpool Business Plan and other initiatives underway in Blackpool, highlighting new opportunities in the town and wider Fylde sub-region....."

and

"The regeneration of Blackpool will require the creation of a robust and sustainable economy that maximises the opportunities for growth both within the town and across the wider Fylde Coast sub-region...."

The bold text above is our emphasis.

Cllr Roger Small, portfolio holder for this Growth Point Bid claims ReBlackpool's plan to extend into Fylde is hogwash and a misunderstanding.

Privately, his officers are not so sure, and they hadn't even noticed the plan to annexe part of Fylde into Blackpool until it was pointed out to them. Not that the Golf Club would want to sell its land to the airport of course, but then, when compulsory purchase schemes are flying around as much as the aircraft, and the good of the many will be shown to outweigh the good of the few, is anyone going to let a bit of grass stand in the way of a Growth Point Bid and progress.

Not if the Commissar gets his way..

Having had successive councils ruin Blackpool with their disastrous quick-fix moneygrabbing, deprivation grant policies, and their short-termist schemes, almost every square inch of the town has now been built on. Their last ditch hope, the Casino bid, failed, and there was no 'Plan B'.

Well now they have one..

It is to spread the growth cancer of concrete into Fylde and destroy the natural break that exists. It is the premeditated rape of Fylde, and will start a merging process that will end in the destruction of the distinct and separate identity we have, and end up with our being part of the Frankenstein monolith with all their disadvantages and none of our current benefits.

Roger Small and John Coombes are responsible for what happens next. History will hold them to account for it.
 

Dated: 19 February 2008 


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